The Letdown: a sweet patchwork of comforting stories for anyone feeling alone

A comedy that never quite whinges about new motherhood, but is frank and self-deprecating about its difficulties

I know this is a column about shows you recommend watching in isolation, but I’m not sure if this one is comforting or excruciating right now. Maybe both! But if you’re self-isolating with small children, it’s almost definitely the latter.

The Letdown is the story of a new mum, Audrey (Alison Bell), struggling to cope with her changed circumstances. As the primary caregiver to her daughter Stevie, she’s largely confined to her home. She feels inadequate, out of control, confused, and frustrated as her previous life – friends, parties, a semi-stable career! – slips out of grasp.

“There’s no point whinging about what you’ve lost: muscle tone, sleep, freedom…” says Ambrose (Noni Hazlehurst), the stern leader of her local mothers’ group. The Letdown never quite whinges about Audrey’s new life, but it is frank and self-deprecating in a particularly Australian way about its difficulties.

Created and written by Alison Bell and Sarah Scheller, The Letdown was originally developed as part of ABC TV’s Comedy Showroom in 2016. It then went on for a two-season run in collaboration with Netflix. In feeling and form, the show follows in the vein of another recent ABC gem turned international success story: Please Like Me. Bell and Scheller wrench humour from the tender and personal (the story stemmed from Scheller’s experiences at a mothers’ group). And through that, The Letdown spotlights the sometimes joyous, sometimes tortuous complexity of domestic and family life.

Alison Bell as Audrey in season two of ABC’s The Letdown
New mother Audrey feels inadequate, out of control, confused and frustrated. Photograph: Supplied

This is a particular kind of domestic life – white, inner-city Sydney, well off enough to live in a family-owned home there – but the story is enriched by the other members of Audrey’s mothers’ group. There’s methodical business woman Ester (Sacha Horler), eager stay-at-home dad Ruben (Leon Ford), bogan mum of three Barbara (Celeste Barber), overachiever Sophie (Lucy Durack), young mum Georgia (Xana Tang), and queer musician Martha (Leah Vandenberg).

These people are dealing with very different problems, but they’re united by many too. Over two seasons, The Letdown creates a sweet patchwork of their stories that feels like a big comforting doona for anyone (but specifically new mums) feeling overwhelmed or alone.

I don’t have any children, but I am in the age range where people expect motherhood to be on your mind. I suppose it is. Each baby that pops into my news feed makes me wonder about the shape and feel of that world. How do you know if it’s what you really want? How do you reckon with the parts of yourself you leave behind?

My mum has told me many times, “one day you’ll be a mother and you’ll understand”. It’s only ever said in moments of sacrifice.

The Letdown is a rare look at those initial sacrifices that are mixed in with the joy, and the world that consistently takes them for granted. I can’t say it makes me want to push a human being out of my body tomorrow, but it would definitely give me a sense of humour about the horror of it all if and when I do.

• The first season of The Letdown is now on Netflix


Meg Watson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep: why I reach for them in dark times
Full of visual wit and narrative ingenuity, the tactile warmth and joie de vivre of these Aardman animations is soul-invigorating

Luke Buckmaster

05, Apr, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: a magical blend of comedy, tragedy, earnestness and irony
What sets this musical comedy series apart from other romcom fare is its respectful but unsentimental handling of mental illness

Ruby Hamad

06, Apr, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
Street Food: Netflix series is a televisual tonic amid postponed travel plans
Has your great getaway been put on hold indefinitely? Netflix’s adventures in roadside cuisine will zest up enforced downtime

Tess McLaughlan

14, May, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
The 100: sci-fi that somehow distracts you from the world's problems by focusing on them
Intelligently crafted and completely engrossing, The 100 is the perfect balance of dark and light – just get past the first three episodes

Elizabeth Flux

09, Apr, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
Crash Landing On You: parachute into this addictively romantic South Korean soap opera
A freak tornado, a paragliding misadventure, and a love that crosses the divide between North and South – and that’s just for starters

Jo Walker

11, May, 2020 @4:18 AM

Article image
Glow: Netflix's Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling is full of rich and relatable stories – and big 80s hair
Comedy-drama about 1980s women’s wrestling is proof you can make a TV show diverse without making it about diversity

Amal Awad

06, May, 2020 @3:30 AM

Article image
Kicking and Screaming: Noah Baumbach’s slacker debut is a nostalgic bite of 90s reality
Director’s first feature is an ode to postgrad wheel-spinning and a warning about the dangers of too much solipsism

Nathan Dunne

13, Apr, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
Derry Girls: criminally underrated Irish sitcom fuses hilarity with political heft
Before Normal People had us ruminating on coming-of-age angst and awkward sexual chemistry of Irish teens, another show beat it to the punch

Osman Faruqi

17, May, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
From Hannah Gadsby's Douglas to The Great: what's new to streaming in Australia in May
Plus the Rise of Skywalker, Sweet Country and a new show from the team behind Fleabag and Killing Eve

Luke Buckmaster

02, May, 2020 @8:00 PM

Article image
Frontline: satirical skewering of TV current affairs programs is still uncomfortably relevant
Like the older, antipodean cousin to The Office and Veep, the classic 90s comedy is still as sharp and occasionally even more painful

Walter Marsh

14, May, 2021 @8:00 PM